A Danish warship, commandos in speed boats and a flotilla of police boats have been shadowing the Esperanza for the last nine days.
At dawn four climbers in inflatable speedboats got past the military and police to board the oil rig Stena Don. They climbed up the inside of the rig and now are hanging from it in tents suspended from ropes, halting its drilling operation.
The climbers have enough supplies to occupy the hanging tents for several days. If they stop the drilling for even a short time then the operators, Cairn Energy, will struggle to meet a tight deadline to complete the exploration before winter ice conditions close in sometime in early October.
Greenpeace climber Sim McKenna suspends a platform from the oil rig Stena Don in Baffin Bay. Greenpeace inflatables and a Danish police vessel are in the background. August 31, 2010. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace UK)
Sim McKenna from the United States, one of the campaigners hanging 15 meters above the Arctic ocean, said, "We've got to keep the energy companies out of the Arctic and kick our addiction to oil, that's why we're going to stop this rig from drilling for as long as we can."
"The BP Gulf oil disaster showed us it's time to go beyond oil," McKenna said. "The drilling rig we're hanging off could spark an Arctic oil rush, one that would pose a huge threat to the climate and put this fragile environment at risk."
The rig has been forced to stop drilling because any breach of the 500 meter security zone around it results in a routine shutdown. It is currently drilling in volcanic rock, having failed to strike oil, and is due to move soon to a new drill site 100 kilometers away.
The Greenpeacers hope to hold up drilling operations for long enough to prevent any oil strike before icy winter conditions make further exploration impossible for the rest of the year.
"Right now this platform is the most important oil rig in the world," said McKenna, who had been helping clean up the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill before joining the Greenpeace ship Esperanza in the Arctic.
"If we can stop them striking oil here in the next few weeks we'll hold back the oil giants for at least another year, hopefully gaining enough time for a global ban on dangerous deepwater drilling projects like this to be enacted," he said.
Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist said, "The Greenland government regards the Greenpeace action as being a very grave and illegal attack on Greenland's constitutional rights. It is highly disturbing that Greenpeace in its chase on media attention with all measures breaks the safety regulations put in place to protect people and the environment."
Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist (Photo courtesy Inuit Ataqatigiit)
"The Greenland government condemns the illegal action, but remains however confident that the police and the executive authorities will continue to ensure that the legal business activities can continue undisturbed," said Kleist.
"Through a comprehensive inspection program it has been demonstrated that Cairn's drilling program in Greenland has been executed according to very high safety standards," the Premier said. "All government requirements have been met conscientiously and the Greenland government therefore remains fully confident about Cairn's activities in Greenland."
But Greenpeace says the well being drilled by the Stena Don is at a depth of 300-500 meters, while the moratorium introduced by President Barack Obama after BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster applies to wells deeper than 152 metres.
Cairn, headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland, has declined to publish a comprehensive plan for how it would deal with a spill from the Stena Don well, and has just 14 vessels capable of reacting to a spill, Greenpeace worries. BP's response in the Gulf of Mexico required more than 300 vessels.
The fragile environment west of Disko Island is known as Iceberg Alley due to its many icebergs and tough conditions. This has deterred oil companies from attempting exploration there, but Greenpeace notes they are watching the Cairn project with interest.
If Cairn strikes oil, analysts expect a new Arctic oil rush, with Exxon, Chevron and other energy companies already buying up licenses to drill in the area.
Jon Burgwald, a Danish Greenpeace campaigner onboard the Esperanza, which is about a kilometer from the occupied platform, said, "Instead of letting the oil companies drill for the last drops of oil in pristine places like the Arctic, our governments should be pushing the development of the clean energy technologies we need to fight climate change and reduce our dependence on dirty fuels."
"We already have the tools we need to go beyond oil, all that's missing is the determination to make it happen quickly," Burgwald said. "That's why we have to stop this rig from drilling for as long as we can. We can't let the oil giants take us all in the wrong direction by opening up the Arctic seas to a new oil rush."
Baffin Bay is inhabited by 80 to 90 percent of the world's narwhals. The region is also inhabited by blue whales, polar bears, seals, sharks and numerous migratory birds.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.